Rangiroa and Tikehau are amazing, low-lying coral atolls located in the Tuamotu archipelago of French Polynesia. This very remote but mythical place is very close to what most would describe as a paradise on Earth and is an amazingly beautiful place.
Even if photography prints can’t really do justice to these wonders of Mother Nature, this post aims to show how beautiful this place is and hopefully to engage you to go and see that travel photography paradise
The article also provides a less pleasant perspective and facts. With global warming and the accelerating rise of sea levels, these atolls, which are at basically at sea level, are very likely to disappear within the next 50 to 100 years.
So, one had better go sooner rather than later…
Why should you go to the Tuamotus?
The Tuamotus archipelago, like a few other spots, has the legitimate right to claim to be at the edge of the world, so it not an easy place to reach. The reward is, however, vastly superior to the pain of travel. Of course, this can be an expensive trip, as well, when going for the “full experience of a lifetime” with overwater bungalows or sailing around the archipelago. However, it is feasible to travel the Tuamotus on a budget e/g cargo boat, small guesthouses, or even camping in private properties – life is too short, so travel there someday soon…
Just enjoy one of the most beautiful places on Earth
The Tuamotu archipelago is the largest chain of atolls in the world with almost 80 islands and atolls, covering an area almost as large as western Europe. Two of the famous islands of the Tuamotu, around 350km away from Tahiti, are Rangiroa and the nearby Tikehau, and both deserve a visit. Fakarava is also a very famous place.
Rangiroa is the second largest lagoon in the world, around 80km long and 32km wide, and is made up of 415 motus! This is an atoll, i.e. an ancient volcano, now submerged with only the motus left slightly above the water’s surface. One of the most beautiful areas is the blue lagoon, made up of 5 sandbanks surrounding a transparent lagoon. You’ll see and swim near myriads of black-tip reef sharks (they haven’t eaten any tourists so far, it seems).
This is a snorkelling and diving paradise
The natural aquarium formed by the lagoon has a reputation for hosting some of the most beautiful scuba diving spots. This is possibly the world’s largest aquarium!
A lot of people come here for diving or snorkelling. Even with no experience, you will be blown away by the snorkelling experience. While underwater photography is clearly not (yet) part of my skills and equipment, here are a few of my basic tourist shots of this wonderful place to give you a feel for it…
The Tiputa Pass and Avatoru Pass, on the northern side of the atoll, produce currents that are ideal for drift diving and snorkelling, as well as for observation of dolphins. Take a waterproof GoPro camera if you go there…
Deep-sea fishing is also a popular water activity in Rangiroa if this is your thing. Kitesurfing is also quite popular on the east coast. So, there’s a lot to do if you’re in the mood to do something!
Unlimited options for very relaxing days, as well…
Rangiroa means “immense sky”, for good reason
Not only are the Tuamotus are amazing from underwater, but the absence of light pollution also makes the Rangiroa and Tikehau sky a wonder on its own, on the top league of remote astrophotography places around the globe like Atacama or others, despite being at sea level.
This is an amazing place for stargazing and enjoying the silence (except the wind in the coconut trees), like in my image below, with small boat lights under a stunning Milky Way.
Test amazing local wine while watching the sunset
Believe it or not, the French managed to grow wine (and a very good one at that – white and rosé) even on a deserted atoll!
This famous Tahitian wine is produced on a small Motu off the Avatoru Pass, and the domain can even be visited during some parts of the year.
Drinking this amazing wine while watching the sunset over the beach and the bungalows (or stargazing as a fairly interesting alternative) is something that you really want to try.
Enjoy the iconic pink sand beaches of Tikehau
On Tikehau, you’ll find hundreds of white and pink sand islets with coconut trees, so it literally feels like you’re in the middle of a postcard, regardless of where you look or go. This paradise on Earth is a very peaceful and quiet place. Rose Island (pink-sand island) is a superb place, but many other deserted Motus are just as beautiful if you want to be alone.
Sunrises and sunsets over the turquoise ocean and the pink sand are also a landscape photography sight to see…
Observe wildlife on Bird Island
Located roughly in the middle of the Tikehau lagoon, Bird Island is a great half-day trip to take. Walking around the island, you’ll see thousands of birds of different species, like the beautiful white tern below.
Unfortunately, this wonder is going to disappear
So, after quite some reading of serious publications, with vastly converging conclusions, I’m just going to try to create for you a very simple and basic summary of what’s going on:
- It has been factually demonstrated that human activities are responsible for global warming.
- One of the devastating consequences of global warming is the rising global sea level, due to the warming of the ocean (since water expands as it warms) for 40+% of the rise and melting of land-based ice for 60% of the impact (mainly temperate glaciers, Greenland and Antarctica).
- The rise is precisely measured and factually accelerating in a scary way. Last decade, the average was 2.6 times faster than during the last 100 years – last years was almost twice the last decade’s.
- While projecting the future sea level is challenging, due to the complexity of many aspects, the previsions keep becoming more pessimistic year after year.
- There are debate and a range on what the “right” number is, of course, but there is no scenario where the trend will slow down. So, between 15 and 25mm of sea-level increase per year is probably the most accurate answer as we know it today.
The graph on the image below gives a simple perspective on the trend. But who cares about a 15mm water raise?
Well, let’s go back to our beautiful Rangiroa and Tikehau islands. From my picture, taken from the plane, it is very obvious that this wonder is flat and almost at sea level (by a few meters).
So, the graph means that this place will disappear in the next 50 to 100 years…
Well, okay, only 2,700 people live there plus a few wealthy tourists, so why should we bother?
Sustainable travel international, a great organization that has for mission to protect and conserve our planet’s most vulnerable destinations by transforming tourism’s impact on nature and people, had a very good article on climate impact on tourism destinations. A good read for additional sad examples.
Still don’t care because you’re not really a beach person? Well, in an average/optimistic scenario, between 200 and 250 million people around the globe will have their feet and houses in the water in the next 50-100 years.
As those are in some of the current or future global economic drivers (e/g China, Indonesia, US, western Europe), what do you think this will do to the world economy and geopolitical stability?
Take a minute to look at this very simple, educational NASA video that does a better job than me at articulating why we should all bother, for our kids and their kids.
So, will our grandchildren be able to see some of these wonders, you think?
The Tuamotus are obviously just an example of an overwhelmingly large issue that can only be solved (let’s say mitigated, at this stage) by coordinated and far more intentional global policies across the globe.
So beyond being good individual citizens doing our best to reduce our impact, if we want our grandchildren to see some of the world’s endangered wonders, our main duty is to wisely use our voice through our voting power, especially in large countries with an impact that truly matters, if and where political leadership is not convinced or intentional enough about the need for change.